Blair DunlopBlair Dunlop
Album: House Of Jacks
Label: Rooksmere
Tracks: 11

With Ashley Hutchings and Judy Dunlop as his parents, it was, perhaps, inevitable that Blair Dunlop would embark on a career in music. Indeed, he has carried on the family business in that he has taken over the reins of the Albion Band from his dad, with a great deal of success. He is also, at 22 years of age, an accomplished solo artist. Blair released two EP's while still in his teens and, in 2012 released his first full-length solo album, the outstanding "Blight and Blossom". I know that Ashley is immensely proud of his prodigiously talented son - how do I know this? Well, Ashley told me so, whilst he sold me a copy of Blair's album!

My first live encounter with Blair was when he took part in the Music of Sandy Denny series of concerts, of which I was lucky enough to see on two occasions. I was most impressed with Blair's performances in those magical shows.

In May, Blair is due to release his second solo album "House of Jacks" and what a cracker it is, for sure!

The album gets off to a blistering start with a superb slice of classic folk-rock worthy of The Guv'nor, in the shape of the single "Something's Give Way". The infectious quality of the music belies the serious subject matter of the lyrics, which deal with the bullying of a school boy who is not considered to be "cool" by his contemporaries. It's a brilliant start but the strength of the songs does not let up. "45s [C.'69]" paints a vivid musical picture of a Soho nightclub in the heyday of the hedonistic '60's, when it did not matter "if you were loaded or you were broke". The sequel to this song is "45s[C.'14]"which describes the same club in the present day, 45 years later ["meet at the entrance, bring your ego, we'll be fine"].

On a more personal level, the gorgeous "Fifty Shades of Blue" is a beautifully observed reflective ballad about denial ["he wears it well but we can tell he wears a plastic smile"]. There is no doubt that Blair can pen memorable melodies as well as insightful lyrics, as is shown by the title track "House of Jacks", which compares a love affair with the building of a house of cards. The song is punctuated by a fiery fiddle solo which reflects the impassioned but controlled vocals. Another superb song.

"Chain By Design" is a delightful acoustic ballad about predestiny and predetermination ["we may think that we're free in every degree but we're just in a chain of design"]. Another lovely fiddle solo.

By contrast, the keyboard and electric guitar-driven "Different Schools" borders on Prog-Rock ; more Floyd than Folk; more Dark Side of the Moon than Rise Up Like the Sun! It's a stunning track with lyrics that concern lack of communication "we just work on different rules". I love this track!

The next piece couldn't be more different. "Violas Reverie" is a lovely acoustic instrumental which shows just what a fine guitarist Blair is.

"The Ballad of Enzo Laviano"begins with a heavily reverbed guitar which sounds a dead ringer for Ashley's former bandmate, Richard Thompson. This leads into a gripping and evocative tale about a young Sardinian footballer who is torn between staying at his beloved home or leaving to go a play for Napoli. An unusual choice of subject matter but one which combines Bair's love of football with his musical talent.

"The Station" was inspired by an essay from 1981 by American writer Robert J.Hastings in which he propounds that the "true joy of life is the trip" and that "relish the moment is the motto". Blair's song expands upon this theme in a thought-provoking rumination on life, set to a gently rolling, train-like rhythm from percussion and acoustic guitar.

The final track "Song Of Two Bridges" is the only one not written by Blair. It is, in fact, a co-write by Ashley and former Steeleye Span guitarist Ken Nicol. It's a lovely observation on the changes in the pace in life from the perspective of two bridges. The track features just Blair's voice and acoustic guitar but brings the album to a beautifully languid conclusion.

This is a superb album and one that I would recommend without hesitation. It marks Blair Dunlop as a major talent who undoubtedly has a great career ahead of him. I know that it's only April but I am going to confidently predict that this superb recording will be among the contenders for Album of the Year come December

Peter Cowley